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Marching forward: Local Legion post sees light at end of tunnel

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NO detail is too small to help the once-closed American Legion Post No. 24 march boldly into the future.

That is why volunteer Bill Erfmeier carefully installed new energy-efficient LED exit lights a few days ago at the facility at 2515 25th St. in Columbus. The bulbs will save the post nearly $1,500 per year in expenses. That’s nearly two months’ worth of electric bills.

That’s a significant sum for a mostly volunteer group pushing just to keep the lights on and other bills paid.

“We’re cutting it close,” new Post Commander Al McKown said.

The state American Legion organization closed the local facility in September because the agency lacked the required number of officers to perform a post’s duties.

Before it reopened in December, the post also had to cover $3,000 in unpaid taxes related to its bartender and cook staff and get current on utility bill payments.

That happened with the help of a $30,000 loan from an unidentified private donor, most of which has been spent and now is being repaid at $1,000 per month.

A fish fry and hog roast during the past couple of months attracted some new faces, saw the return of a few others and generated about $2,500 for operating expenses.

Columbus veteran Ted Wells, who in recent years began visiting the Seymour American Legion Post more often than the Columbus one, has now become a believer in Post No. 24’s future.

“There has to be a place like this for veterans to socialize with one another,” Wells said. “They’re a big part of this community.”

The Legion’s most visible role in the community surfaces in funeral honor guards.

New finance officer Dempsey Ferguson got involved with the Legion just a few years ago — after the mournful strains of taps and the volley of rifle shots near his home close to Columbus’ Garland Brook Cemetery roused him and his patriotism.

“That really got to me,” said Ferguson, a Vietnam vet.

Ferguson, McKown and other leaders want to find ways not only to bring back older members such as Wells but to attract younger veterans. They’re uncertain what that might take but specifically want to welcome soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. A few stopped in recently to play cards.

Though Ferguson and McKown are in their mid-60s, they say they have plenty in common with younger service members.

“A bullet flying over your head sounds the same no matter what year it is,” Ferguson said.

Live music is one possible draw to boost post participation.

For future fundraisers, leaders are considering selling American flags. They also are considering a booth at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair in July for visibility and some way to generate funds.

“Earlier this year, people kept saying things like, ‘When we meet next month, we should think about ...,’” McKown said. “I finally said, ‘There may not be a next month. We’ve got to act now.’”

Post leaders say they were unhappy about the way American Legion Ninth District officials handled the agency’s fall reorganization and rebirth, so much so that local leaders now are using national officials for guidance and help.

Ninth District Commander Bill Parks said he understood local post leaders were upset about some issues while the 25th Street facility was being prepared to reopen.

“But they were very aware of everything going on every step of the way,” Parks said.

He added that district leaders never intended to force the local post into anything, including how most of the $30,000 loan was being spent.

Bruce Drake, communications director for the Indianapolis-based Department of Indiana American Legion, said that local posts do not need to submit their plans to district officers.

“They simply have to abide by the Indiana (Legion) constitution and bylaws in order to keep their charter,” Drake said.

McKown said it would make sense that local residents support the revived post and its activities.

“All of us are benefactors of military veterans,” McKown said, “because we’re free.”

About the post

Address: 2515 25th St.

Phone: 376-7036

Hours: Open at 10 a.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. Saturdays and noon Sundays. Closing time is about 9 p.m. or later weekdays and Saturdays, depending upon the crowd, and usually 6 p.m. Sundays

Welcome mat: Open to the public for lunch and dinner

Menu sampling: Cheeseburgers for $4.25; fish sandwiches for $5; tenderloins, $5.25; beer for $2 per bottle

Current semi-active members: 100

Annual dues: $35; $25 for sons or daughters of service personnel

Monthly profit 30 years ago: $30,000

Monthly profit needed regularly today: $8,000

Open to donations: Leaders say they’re open to various expressions of support, including financial gifts.

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